Gershon Lopes pointing out serious erosion on cliffs near the eastern end of the airport runway.
ST. EUSTATIUS– Six months ago, Inspector for Nature and Environment on St. Eustatius Gershon Lopes told Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute’s (CNSI’s) Science Café that erosion could cause serious problems on the island. At that time. only roaming animals were blamed for most of the damage. But now it seems that humans have also been changing the geography of the island, more particularly at the eastern end of the airport perimeter. “A new drainage system to channel water away from the cliff edge does not work,” says Lopes. “The cliff is rapidly falling into the sea, and if left unchecked, will eventually disappear altogether along with the end of the runway, and the drainage system that caused the problem in the first place.”
Some remedial work has been carried out to direct more water away from the area, but Lopes believes that further landslides are inevitable. “Statia needs to have an erosion assessment carried out. We are losing our soil to the sea. And our marine life is being damaged,” he says.The inspector realizes that local Government’s money is tight and that any serious survey of the island’s watershed will have to be commissioned by the Dutch Government.“We have already started to dispose of untagged animals, and that is slowing down the destruction. But we need more infiltration wells, and our island’s drainage system is in need of serious repair,” says Lopes. “Monuments Director Walter Hellebrand gave me an example of how it also affects our cultural heritage, as Fort Nassau is slowly sliding off the cliff into the sea. If we do nothing to reinforce the barriers to erosion, we will have to start printing new maps of the island.” Lopes intends to lobby with the Dutch Government for the necessary funding to repair and restore the drainage system. This includes the century-old rock walls [dry laid stone walls – Ed.] that line the roads previous generations built to keep erosion in check. “The Dutch are masters at water management, and this is one area where they can invest and make an obvious difference to the everyday lives of Statians,” according to Lopes.